The other half

What the political parties have done, and promise to do, for the 50 percent of Pakistan’s population

The advent of 2013 elections propelled various political parties to present their manifestos by including a significant portion to address women issues, which comprises of around 50 percent of Pakistan’s population. A study of their particular sections enables us to understand the perceptions of certain political entities on women status and their placement in the Pakistani society. This analysis reveals that though every political party has certain view when it comes to women issues, but their emphases and attitudes as well as their seriousness remained variant.

There is some consolation that all major political parties including Pakistan Peoples Party-Parliamentarian (PPP-P), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Muttahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM), Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Awami National Party (ANP) and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) have dealt with the unresolved issues of female population of Pakistan, according to their own interpretations and ideologies. In these manifestos, some promises are made to improve the condition of women by providing them quality education and employment facilities. We should keep in view that a number of these parties were in government four to five times, not to mention the extended tenure of five years for the outgoing federal and provincial governments. Their performances during their respective tenures must be taken into account in this particular sector.

Here are the highlights of the women related commitments and promises made in their respective manifestos:

PPP-P: It makes a commitment that women quota for jobs will be increased to 20 percent and the female representation will see an additional 10 pecent quota for them in the legislative bodies. The manifesto also makes a vague claim and rhetoric that the women will not be discriminated. There is no mention of measures taken to improve the conditions of women when PPP-P was in government, both at the federal and provincial levels, four to five times. Surprisingly, promise of women health facilities is missing, although availability of more contraceptives is promised. PPP-P knows better that all kinds of health facilities, especially in rural areas, are highly inadequate and being in government for an extensive tenure, it should have provided a detailed and clear agenda for the betterment of women.

PTI: The PTI concentrates on the involvement and grooming of the youth where girls occupy an equally important part. It further makes a firm commitment that the girls of all ages will be encouraged to educate themselves and in this regard, uniforms, textbooks, scholarship, transportation and sibling daycare facilities will be provided so that the female literacy rate could be drastically improved. PTI, exceptionally, is able to hit the nail on the head when it promises to remove gender biases in the textbooks. It is an established truth that unless a peculiar mindset of the society where girls are seen as inferior to boys is removed, there can be no improvement in the condition of women. The socio-cultural setup of the society has to be rebuilt and this is exactly what the PTI intent to do.

PML-N: Nawaz League talks about establishing women Protection Centres for destitute, old and aged women in all major cities. Though they have mentioned health issues of women but without any framework for their resolution. The manifesto does not mention the policies or any concrete steps that this party took to address the problems of the women when they were in various government, four to five times.

ANP: There is more emphasis on the representation of women in the legislative bodies, which according to the menesfesto should be 33 percent, and the existing 10 percent quota is to be maintained. ANP promises to prohibit deals that bar women from voting and to remove the need for a male guardian for adult women when applying for NIC. Some non-specified steps are also mentioned to empower women. ANP promises to discourage child marriage, swara, ghag, vani etc and provide inheritance rights to women. It also intends to improve the implementation of these laws. ANP has been in government, both at federal and provincial levels for the last five years but does not mention their performance in this aspect.

MQM: The MQM proposes an ambitious plan to gradually increase the women representation to 50 percent in all walks of life, particularly in the parliament and provincial assemblies and in the government and semi-government offices. MQM promises protection for those couples who marry at freewill, particularly in rural areas.

JI: With no specifications, the JI promises to grant rights to the women, as accoring to the principles of Islam. It talks about the right of inheretance for women and to discourage divorce given in haste. The menifesto says that for primary education, women teachers will be preferred and pragnent women will be given half pay for six months after the delivery of the child and their jobs will be secured. It will also make efforts to do away with such evil practices like watta satta, vani, marriage with Quran and honour killings.

It is a recognisable fact that no political party affords to ignore women issues due to their significant number but the actual test of their seriousness will come when these desires and agendas will be implemented, in letter and spirit. Although, there will be a sizeable number of women representation in the national and provincial legislation, along with those elected on general seats, but their real performance would be judged when they will put efforts to implement the existing legislation and would bring a mechanism in place in the shape of a monitoring cell or a permanent committee, where the inclinations towards female inequality is closely observed and analysed. Apart from that, future governments will also be required to create a conducive socio-cultural setup so that women could contribute towards the society with the best of their abilities. It is only possible if people with vision, imagination, conviction and sincerity are elected.

Dr Syed Farooq Hasnat is a professor while Zamurrad Awan is a lecturer at the Department of Political Science, FC College University, Lahore.